It’s the opening night of Toronto After Dark Film Festival and I’m standing in the pass-holder line, which stretches down the street and all the way around the block. It’s pouring rain. Two young women in white mini-dresses and scissors in their pockets are running around, sans umbrella, hugging fans in line and thanking them for coming out for the Canadian premiere of their second feature film, American Mary (review).
The Canadian sibling duo, Sylvia and Jen, better known as the Soska Twins, write, direct, and act in American Mary, the follow up to their grindhouse flick, Dead Hooker in a Trunk. After the packed screening I made my way across the street with the twins to the Toronto After Dark pub party, sitting down in a moody, red-velvet booth to chat about all things American Mary.
BD: This is your second feature film, what was it different the second time around? How did it differ from Dead Hooker?
Jen Soska: Everything is different. With Dead Hooker we had $2500, we were literally running around and doing every job on set. With American Mary, to have these amazing keys in all our departments. My first AD had to stop me on set when I said, “Oh we need this” and I’d turn to run, he’d be like no you can’t go anywhere, you’re the director! That comes from years of us being background artists.
Sylvia Soska: I would go around and try to pick up a wire and people would be like, that’s not your department. It was hard because I’m so used to being involved in everything. They were all so nice and totally accountable for our inexperience. Nobody did this movie for money, everyone was excited because of the script, and they just worked like fucking dogs. I don’t even understand it because we abused everyone so much.
Sylvia Soska: Eli has been the sweetest person ever to us. When we made Dead Hooker it was partly inspired by Grindhouse.
Jen Soska: At the time we were going to a piece of shit film school that I won’t name. We had a piece of shit agent also that we went in to fire.
Sylvia Soska: We were coming in to politely fire them and then they told us there was a stunt program we could do since that was what we were interested in. It was completely amazing; it was all outsourced from the actual school. We paid $20,000 for the school, we got $200 per short. But thank god Grindhouse was in theatre at the time, and Jason Eisner’s Hobo with a Shotgun, it was so inspiring. I walk out of the screening one day after they cut the funding for our final project and Jen goes, “Dead Hooker in a Trunk!” So there was list of everything that was too inappropriate to put in student films, and we put everything on that list in our trailer because it was on our own merit. Then they let us show the trailer at the graduation ceremony for some reason, and we went dead last. Half the audience walked out, the other half started cheering so loud you couldn’t even hear the offensive dialogue. They asked us when the full film was coming up and naturally we lied and said we were working on it.
Jen Soska: Then we actually made it and sent it to everyone involved in Grindhouse and Eli was one of them. He’s been so sweet, such a mentor to us. He gets a bad rap sometimes but he’s amazing. After we sent him Dead Hooker he asked if it was a locked cut or if we would take suggestions. So, of course, we asked for him to send us suggestions. He was actually just trying to help us. He’s the coolest guy ever.
Sylvia Soska: Then he asked for our next script and we didn’t have one, so I lied. I told him I had so many scripts and I listed a bunch, everything I thought we could make up. I listed one about a medical student, and he said it sounded awesome. And then we made American Mary. One advice he always gave was, “Don’t fuck up.” Which is in the movie quite prevalently with Dr. Grant. He’s like our adorable big brother.
Jen Soska: He let us go through the shit and struggle, and we got to where we are now.
BD: The film very much is a take on the rape and revenge film, what made you want to work within this subgenre?
Sylvia Soska: There are a few instances that pick away at Mary’s Psyche in the film. First is what she does to Rat, that’s the first time she compromises her morals. The second time, especially as a woman, is when she de-sexualized Ruby. That fucks her up. Then the next scene, some family’s father just died and she doesn’t care, you can tell she’s not wholly there anymore. By the time the rape happens, there’s really nowhere else she can go. She’s at the point where she realizes she’s a really good doctor and if you fuck with her she’ll practice surgery on you. She doesn’t have that emotional connection anymore.
Jen Soska: The scene after the rape is so intentionally long because it’s the last time you really see Mary in the film. She has those perfect tears and she realizes everything she was aspiring to be has shattered. It’s a metaphor, in a lot of ways, for our experience in the film industry. I’ve had all my ideals of what I thought was the film industry destroyed.
Slyvia Soska: It’s a transformation scene right after the rape, and it’s a testament to the caliber of actor Katie is. She had to perform a lot of scenes without words, and if you watch the film I think you can really see what she’s going through. But, some people are so used to the shock of horror and they just want to see her tits.
Jen Soska: It’s really a different take on the subgenre. She was raped, yes, but all her ideals were also raped away from her in a sense. She realizes that everything she has been sacrificing herself for is not of value; it’s not what she thought it was.
BD: Given that it takes palce in medical school, how much research did you have to do?
Jen Soska: Sylvia did a lot of research.
Slyvia Soska: My mom had an inoperable brain tumor when we were really young and this really great micro surgeon came in. My mom just wanted him to try anything because she just had two new twin daughters, and he did it. He saved her life. He’s a brilliant, brilliant surgeon. But, he also does paintings of people being eaten by wild animals, usually a bear. I thought that was so strange. A surgeon’s job is cutting into people and I think that has to have an effect on their psyche.
Jen Soska: Slyvia extensively researched it. We write to impress one another, and when she wrote the opening scene, I read it and I was like, how did you know this stuff? It was also important when Mary gets into body modification, we had someone who had medical experience with that side of things on set, and we used his method of stitching, not really the way a surgeon would do it.
Sylvia Soska: I hope the movie opens up a dialogue about cosmetic surgery. If you want to get 3D implants in your forehead, it’s frowned upon, but if you want breast implants that’s okay. It’s about people’s safety, and you’re not going to change what people want to do, but you should be able to protect them so they don’t injure themselves. Young kids can seriously hurt themselves.
BD: There’s been a resurgence of strong female leads in horror, and American Mary very much fits into that. Why did you want to bring back this ideal, especially as female directors and writers?
Jen Soska: We grew up on horror movies in the ’80s and I loved Freddy, and Jason, and Mike Meyers. But when Halloween would come around, there was nobody for a girl to dress up as.
Sylvia Soska: I thought it would be cool to mix the final girl with the antagonist. I don’t know if you’ve ever made a female angry, but sometimes they come back a little crazy afterward. I think sometimes they should be locked up, the way the act, it’s complete insanity. So I thought to mix them was a really cool idea, people get bored with the same shit all the time. Katie was so great, so passionate about the characters and it was exciting to collaborate with her.
Jen Soska: Mary is really the new evolution of the final girl. When I was a little girl I was watching Alien with my mom and I was so scared for Ripley and my mom said, “Don’t worry, it’s Ripley, she always wins.” Little did I know this was the evolution of the final girl, a strong badass. Now you have Mary, and her real villain is herself.
BD: You have a line of comics coming out?
Sylvia Soska: We get to do a version of all our scripts in graphic novels with First Comics. It’s going to be the director’s cut because there’s no budget with comic books. We’re the writers and everything. I hope comic book version of me is hot. I’d bang comic book me.
Jen Soska: You’d bang any version of you.
BD: Anything else you want people to know about American Mary?
Sylvia Soska: The only reason we got to make American Mary is because people really supported Dead Hooker. Monster Pictures is releasing in New Zealand and Australia, Universal International is doing it in Germany, UK, and Switzerland, and Anchor Bay is doing Canada. The more attention the fans give to it, the bigger the release will be. If they like unique movies like this, they’ll see less remakes.
Jen Soska: There are studios that look at all the social media, twitter, and facebook. The fans have no idea have no idea how much power they have.